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Miscellaneous Green Files

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Miscellaneous Green Files

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Organics Are Profitable
Certified organic production may be more economically sustainable than conventional agriculture, according to results from Manitoba’s longest-running crop rotation supply.

Martin Entz, a plant science professor at the University of Manitoba, has been comparing three cropping systems over the past eight years--a conventional high-input system, two low-input systems that eliminate some inputs and a full organic rotation.

While total organic crop production was almost always significantly lower than conventional production, one clear trend has emerged, says Entz.

"It’s interesting to note that every year for the past eight years we’ve been running this study the organic production systems have had the lowest cost of production and highest net returns," he says.

The study took into account total cost of production and net returns to growers. Over an eight-year period, conventional full-input agriculture had an average input cost of $104.14 an acre and returned $27.87 an acre to the producer.

The low-input systems eliminated one of either herbicides or fertilizers. When herbicides were eliminated, input costs were $77.17 an acre and net returns were $30.87. When fertilizers weren’t used, the input cost was $71.36 and the net return was $26.67. When the crops were produced under a full organic system, input costs were $43.44 and the net return was $40.23. All of the costs and commodity prices were calculated at a constant 1996 value and were averaged over the entire eight years that the rotation has been in place.
--Manitoba Co-operator, August 3, 2000

Safer Substances Control Plant Pests
Researchers are finding ways to protect plants from disease by using a whole host of bacteria, viruses and parasitic fungi.

The Spring Meadow Eco/Agri-Research farms in the US are uncovering remarkable disease and insect controls. Research has found that a powerful anti-bacterial substance found in an extract of cauliflower seed is effective against a number of bacteria which cause plant diseases. The natural juices of some processed plants have been found to protect other plants against virus. Beneficial fungi have been discovered and are being used successfully to fight fungi that cause root rot and wilt on strawberry plants. For example, one antifungal fungus, the Trichoderma, won over root rot. The research farms hope to save forest trees by new methods that build up beneficial organisms that defend against killing fugus diseases.

The list of insect and disease suppressive organisms offering plant protection is rapidly grow-ing, almost as fast as the evidence mounting against the dangers of poison sprays. So much damage is being done to farms, landscaping, lawns and golf courses by herbicides, chemical inorganic fertilizers and pesticides that insurance companies are getting alarmed and rates are going up over demands for liability claims. That’s why recent research is putting more stress on discovering safer substances to control plant pests, whether they are insect, fungi, virus or other plants.
--Acres, August 2000

Pesticides Linked to Parkinson’s
Puttering around your garden may no longer be safe. Exposure to pesticides in the home or garden can increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease, according to a study presented to the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in San Diego in August.

Almost 500 participants, all diagnosed with Parkinson’s, took part in the study conducted by researchers from Stanford University. Detailed questions were asked about their first exposure to insecticides, herbicides and weed killers in the garden or fungicides in the home. The results are disturbing.

The risk was doubled for those who had personally handled or applied pesticides in the home or garden from those who had never used any type of pesticides.

  • Garden insecticides are associated with a 50 per cent increase in the risk of Parkinson’s disease.

  • In-home insecticides are associated with with a 70 per cent increased risk.


This study clearly shows that pesticides are neurotoxic and can affect various aspects of human central nervous system function and cause nerve cell death, says Dr Lorene Nelson (PhD), a neuroepidemiololgist at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
--Editorial Staff

Shade-Grown Coffee Boost
Starbucks has announced that it will expand sales of environmentally- friendly shade-grown coffee.

The company made the announcement a year after it started the project to grow coffee in a way that protects ecosystems by not clearing out forests. Shade-grown coffee is grown in the traditional way, with coffee plants interspersed under a canopy of trees. It’s an attempt to rejuvenate the original shaded system, which maintains a natural balance with the canopy of trees providing organic material for the soil and a habitat for birds. It also protects other wildlife, shelters insects and generates extra income from lumber and fruit after the coffee-harvest season is over.

Trees in Central and South America are home to countless migratory and native birds. Sadly, the last 20 years has seen a fall of half the usual number of birds crossing the Gulf of Mexico. This decrease can be blamed on birds losing their habitat because of the loss of forest. Shade-grown coffee helps reverse this trend.
--Editorial Staff

Our Climate Needs Your Help!
With news that there is now clear water at the North Pole in place of pack ice and that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are higher now than at any time in the previous 20 million years, we have less time than ever to agree on substantial international action to address the threat of climate change.

Climate change is the greatest environmental threat that the world faces:

  • Extreme weather events are at an all-time high. Weather-related insurance losses in the 1990s were four times as high as during the 1980s. In the 1960s there were 16 climate-related disasters; in the 1990s there were 70.

  • Development non-governmental organisations like Christian Aid and the International Red Cross warn that they may not be able to cope with environmental disasters similar to the floods in Mozambique this year, Hurricane Mitch in Central America in 1998, or the Orissa cyclone in 1999 which killed 10,000 people. One hundred million people are at risk from drought in Northern India.

  • More than half of the coral reefs surrounding South Pacific states have died in the last 10 years as a result of higher ocean temperatures.

  • Rising temperatures may mean that vegetation dies off, releasing even more stored carbon dioxide and frozen "methane hydrates" trapped under ice caps may escape into the atmosphere, raising the possibility of a chain reaction.


This issue comes into sharp focus when international leaders meet in The Hague in November to discuss climate change and agree concerted action. Although an international agreement on the issue was made in Kyoto in Japan in 1997, there is a risk that it will collapse in November if countries like the US, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Canada continue to move the goalposts of the original agreement.

Please, please go now to and add your voice to an Internet petition asking the world’s leaders to act now. Time is running out. Please forward this information to everyone you know.
--Lorna Hancock
Health Action Network Society


"Mad Cow" Deaths in British Village
A small village in central England has been gripped by fear following four deaths from "mad cow" disease.

The deaths in Queniborough, England, have prompted an urgent investigation into finding clues for the reoccurance of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), which all but crippled Britain’s beef industry and provoked a bitter political row within Europe over whose meat was safe to eat.

The British government says many of the Queniborough victims could have been exposed to the infective agent "many years ago." Most were believed to have contracted the fatal disease in the late 1980s through eating infected meat. Dr Phillip Monk, who is in charge of the investigation, said there is no need for alarm.

Health Canada has developed a surveillance system to monitor CJD in this country and has developed import and domestic control policies. Mad cow is a fatal, brain-wasting disease. Symptoms include blurred vision, slurred speech and loss of limb control. There is no known cure, with most victims dying in a period of months. It’s caused by farmers supplementing the livestock diet with fat, bone meal, animal protein and blood from other animals. Meat eaters are advised to steer clear of processed and reformed meats like bologna and hamburgers. It is also advised to only eat ground meat that has been put through the grinder by the butcher in front of your own eyes and to ensure that all meat is thoroughly cooked.
--Manitoba Co-operator, July 2000

People Power Stops GE Research
Don’t underestimate the strength of people power!

Research undertaken in British Columbia’s Similkameen and Okanagan valleys to engineer a variety of tree fruits was halted after area organic tree fruit growers learned it had reached the field trial stage and brought it to the public attention. The proposed engineering, which sought to prevent non-browning of the flesh and stems of fruit, but threatened local organic growers. After several public meetings and with help of the Canada Ministry of Agriculture, federal researchers collaborating on the research abandoned the project. The company that hosted the research vowed to move elsewhere.
--Acres, August 2000

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